Athens families return home, continue rebuilding 6 months after tornado

ATHENS (WATE) – It’s been six months since an EF 2 tornado swept through McMinn County, leaving devastation in its path.

Winds of an estimated 110 miles per hour ripped trees from the ground and turned buildings into rubble on November 30, the same week as the Gatlinburg fires. Months later, the Athens community continues moving forward.

Previous story: Athens community rebuilds after November tornado

There are boxes piling up inside Keith Shields’ home, some marked with a T, which stands for tornado. Slowly but surely, it’s starting to feel like home again.

“To sit down, watch the news, have my cup of coffee in my home, yeah that was wonderful,” he said.

Day after day, for six months now, homeowners in Athens have been coming home to work. The Shields family have designated an assignment and a room to finish each day.

“I know things happen, I don’t want it to happen again, but the experience of going through the tornado was something to remember,” he said.

The tornado has been hard to forget, but the landscape along Highway 307 has been changing.

“To see hope as people who are watering a bed, planting grass, trying to pick up the last of the little bits of debris, that’s so encouraging,” said Jeanine Scherbarth.

The Scherbarths’ roof, windows and walls were destroyed in the tornado and what was inside their home was damaged by rain. What they weren’t able to replace with insurance, they’ve been able to replace due to help from the community, neighbors and volunteers.

“There is hope. Don’t let discouragement take its place,” she added.

Time and construction crews have been shared because there’s so much devastation and so many people needing to rebuild or repair.

“We move on. This doesn’t have to be the end of anything, it’s just a new chapter,” said Scherbarth.

That’s why six months later, survivors of the tornado are thankful for so much but especially the little things, like a recliner.

“I earned it,” chuckled Shields.

Many remember Amber Newman, a pregnant woman who was hurt when those storms came through. She had to be rushed to the hospital but ended up safely giving birth to her baby girl.

More: Athens baby born during November tornado happy, healthy

Newman said Thursday her daughter, Ava, is growing so much and warming everyone’s hearts. Newman adds they can’t go anywhere without people mentioning Ava and she says they’re blessed to be here.

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